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Canadian Parliament (Finally) Moves to Protect Children from Sexual Exploitation

All federal and provincial age-related legislation has age restrictions. Parliament is now close to raising the age of sexual consent from 14 to 16 years-of-age to protect children.

Art Hanger, the Member of Parliament for Calgary Northeast was elected in 1993. In 1996, he introduced a Private Members' Bill to raise the age of sexual consent with an adult from age 14 to 16. A similar Bill was introduced in each Parliament since then, but never passed. Fourteen years after being elected, Art Hanger chairs Parliament's Justice and Human Rights Committee, which is currently examining Bill C-22, Protection of Children, which would raise the age of consent from 14 to 16. It is an interesting footnote that the children he is trying to protect were born in the year he was elected.

… one of the witnesses was accompanied by a young man, who…ended up selling his body to men in a section of Toronto called Boys Town.

After the Committee hearing, at which The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) appeared as a witness to support the Bill, I said to Mr. Hanger, "It must be nice to be working on a Bill with two numbers instead of a Bill that has three numbers." (Bills with two numbers, such as C-22 are government Bills, while Bills with three numbers are Private Members' Bills, which usually do not pass in the House of Commons.) He smiled.

And there is something worth smiling about, or even cheering about! After so many attempts to introduce this legislation, it is finally here, and could soon become law. Our children might soon have more protection from adult sexual predators.

But in a sense that smile is short-lived, because throughout the Committee process there were a lot of things brought up that I am now used to hearing.

We were there to tell the Committee that it was important to raise community standards, and to remind MPs that anyone under 18 is a child, and therefore vulnerable, and needs the protection of the law to keep them safe. Our arguments centred on the value of a human being, created in the image of God and that children are to be cared for and not looked at as objects of adults' sexual desires.

Three different police groups made their presentations alongside us. Their arguments are just as compelling and their testimony is frightening enough to cause parents to worry more about the safety of their children. Undercover officers report that 100 percent of the time, when online, posing as a 13-year old, conversations that are initiated with them move quickly to discussions about sex. This usually occurs in less than one minute. Some predators who believed that they were actually talking to a 13-year old boy or girl tried to maintain the relationship with the undercover officer for several months, just waiting for that youth to reach the current age of consent, which is now 14 years.

At a Committee meeting on a different day, one of the witnesses was accompanied by a young man who, as a result of sexual abuse when he was younger, ended up selling his body to men in a section of Toronto called Boys Town. He gave his personal story to committee members and told them that younger boys were the most in demand. In what was an emotional presentation, he told MPs that it is younger children, in circumstances similar to what he faced as a youth, that need to be protected today. (This presenter was not very old, and I can't help but wonder if similar legislation had been passed earlier in 1996, could he have been protected?)

There were other groups who came before the Committee and who argued forcefully that the age of consent should remain at age 14. Even in our modern age, I had difficulty with some of the frank discussions and language that were used around the Committee table, such as from one group, EGALE (Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere) who strongly advocated lowering the age of consent for anal sex from 18 (as the law currently states) to 16. He had agreement from a number of committee members. When a representative from EGALE suggested that the legal age of sexual consent has been 14 since 1890 and should therefore be left alone, another witness at the committee reminded him that homosexuality was illegal in 1890 and so he should not be so quick to argue for the status quo.

Inscribed on Parliament's Peace Tower is Proverbs 29:18, "Where there is no vision, the people perish." The New International Bible Version says it this way: "Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint." This can either be taken as a descriptor of the way things are, or a warning, for us not to let up.

Children are among society's most vulnerable persons. They need adults to protect, guide and provide for them. For this reason, legislation across Canada and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Canada is a signatory, define a "child" as every person under the age of 18 years. Canada's child pornography laws confirm a child to be under the age of 18 years. Children need society's protection—they need the protection of the law.

All federal and provincial age-related legislation has age restrictions, whether it is the age to obtain a drivers licence, the legal age for consumption of alcohol or the age at which one can purchase cigarettes. These age-related restrictions exist because, as a society we recognize the responsibility to protect our children.

At what age is a person mature enough to engage in activities that may have life-long consequences?

A society can be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable citizens. While Canadian society regards the protection of our children as a primary responsibility, tragically, abuse of children still occurs on an all too frequent basis.

Douglas Cryer is the director of public policy for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.




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